--overheard in Tampa airport, December 25, 2012
Just before Christmas this year a friend called to let me know he'll be spending the entire holiday season in a casino. Not because he enjoys gambling, but because his wife and her sister will spend Christmas figuring up how to amicably end their parents' 30-year marriage.
It's not sabotage, a kind of backwards Parent Trap. No, their parents requested the help of their children.
I imagine that Christmas card.
I'm not sure of the details--if they plan on giving each other gifts, going to mass, and so forth, although there will surely be an airing of the grievances--before the big au revoir.
The expertise of the youger daughter, an attorney, will surely be of value in this Christmas Schism.
It sounds horrific, but this kind of thing and worse happens all the time at Christmas--divorce, death, sickness, abuse, apathy, and probably more than a few conversations about Lance Armstrong.
My own worst Christmas involved me being newly graduated and unemployed and spending every waking moment, fully sober, with my family.
Every holiday season we traverse, mostly by way of airports, through the fog of the Christmas Spirit. It wraps us in the same way casino walls do--a suffocating torpor called Christmas, reeking of peppermint, baby poo and totally groundless optimism. There's now proof that the Christmas Spirit exists: researchers have found that when bombarded with enough of Bing Crobsy's White Christmas, we'll continue to hear it, even when it isn't playing. Ain't that the truth?
Except now it's Justin Bieber and his fucking drummer boy, that damn drum hanging in the ether, long outside the range of the cavernous mall reverb, the tinny car JBLs, and airport PA systems. I don't want you to play your drum for me, and if I did, that'd have to be some kind of Sauron-level evil in me, and I'd hope you'd take me to Mount Doom and toss me into the abyss, along with the Sauron-level evil that wanted Bieber to play his drum for me. (It'd be different if Bieber was truly "a poor boy," as the lyrics contend.)
Bing's White Christmas is hardly better. As I kid I wondered if that song was racist, and, I'll admit, I was not a particularly sensitive child toward racism You have to admit, if Hitler could choose a Christmas song, it wouldn't be O Tannebaum, even if it is in German, the language of das Volk. No, it'd be Bing's hit, the one about dreamy whiteness, the one about a cycling team called Blanco.
Among the most horiffic of the insidious Christmas songs is the one sung by an unapoligetic gold-digger, most recently voiced by Taylor Swift. The woman begs Santa engage in coitus ("hurry down the chimney") with her rapidly, but not before he brings her tokens demonstrating his worth, proving he deserves her more than "all the other fellas [she] could have kissed." Among the feats she demands:
- kill a beast, skin it, and leave it under the tree
- dig into the earth and discover platinum, create a mine, and then give that to her
- provide her with two types of transportation--a convertable and a yacht
- provide for her a place of residence (i.e., a duplex).
This kind of barter--platinum mine for nookie--is, shall we say, not precisely in the spirit of giving. From sad middle age, where I have had the chance to see a few Christmases spin down the shitter, I'll tell you exactly where "Santa Baby" leads--thirty years later your children help you divide up your assets and send you out into the cold alone, and at that point, none of the "fellas you could've kissed" want to kiss you any more.
Racism, materialism, divorce, gambling, prostitution--that's what Christmas is about. There but for the grace, eh?
Why, apart from these tawdry and depressing tunes, is the season so depressing? It didn't always used to be such a bummer, like when I was a kid. Christmas was great then.
Christmas is really an illusion we sustain for children. I'm not just talking Santa; I'm talking the idea of peace on Earth, of joy to all, of a reformed Scrooge, of the Grinch's heart growing three sizes, of gifts without price, and of parents who love each other infinitely and till the end of time. Not to mention the idea of God-made-man.
(This is not to say the Incarnation is an illusion we maintain for children. It's just to say that the incarnation is over (Jesus peace out-ed) and thus requires a bit of selling on our part.)
Part of the bummer of Christmas is wallowing in the illusion, but even worse is the expectation, the moral obligation, to uphold the illusion. No one really gives a shit about a white Christmas; yet, here our brains sing it to us even after the song ends. It's for the children. For the kids.
Some of these illusions we maintain for the kids' sake--say, a decent marriage--come crumbling down at some point. And the ones that remain generally suck.
It came as a shock to me when I discovered that a good number of the adults in my life relied on drugs to get them through things. It also came as a shock when I discovered chemistry had enabled many of the greatest athletic performances I'd revered as a child. My parents didn't bother telling me Santa existed, but they did spend a lot of time on Baby Jesus.
Is there some connection between the myths we make around athletes and the myths we make around Christmas? What do we get out of such myths?
Every time I get on the bike and churn through another ride, I remember how to suffer, physically. I get some satisfaction from the pain my lungs, from the sweat pooling in my shoes, and even from the aching, aging muscles. I feel less separate from the primal stuff--like someone has wiped down the windshield and I can see a bit more clearly. I ride Bing's voice out of my head.
That's a good feeling, getting rid of that. And in the end, maybe that's the truest spirit of Christmas--driving out falsehood, shovelling away the bullshit, breaking up the sham marriage, and spinning for an hour or two on the trainer.